By Luke Ellington
(Source: Panoramio. Image by Chris Metz; Attribution No Derivative Works license, no changes made)
Timeline of Mansfield
|1883||Douglas County established|
|1886||Waterville voted county seat|
|1889||Four families arrive in Mansfield|
|1909||Great Northern Railway spur line reaches new Mansfield location|
|1911||Mansfield becomes Incorporated, approximately 250 residents|
|1913||Approximately 1,000 residents|
|1914||Fire destroys Mansfield business district|
|1917||Steep decline in wheat prices|
|1950||Approximately 415 residents|
|1985||Mansfield spur line abandoned, trains stop running to town|
|Present||Approximately 320 residents|
Founding Family Names
Many families and individuals took part in the formation of Douglas County settlements in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some names appear in many historical accounts and biographical sketches, while others have been lost to time. These are some of the names which have survived in books about Mansfield:
Buckingham, Burke, Caille, Cavadini, Darling, Freeman, Knox, Marchand, Radtke, and Yeager.
A Look Back
As with each town in Douglas County, the seeds for Mansfield were planted by rugged folks who saw rough expanses of rocks and weeds and dreamed of more. Four such families came to the Mansfield area in 1889 with a shared dream. The Yeagers, Cailles, and two Marchand families homesteaded on 160 acre tracts and were able to acquire another 160 acres by way of the Timber Culture Act, for cultivating 10 acres of fruit trees. Timber from the Columbia River valley offered the necessary home building supplies, and water was hauled in from the “Alkali Wells” spring. Those early pioneers knew at once they had a good thing going. The place was a boom-town waiting to happen.
Between 1901 and 1906, roughly 92 homesteads were recorded springing up into Douglas County. Tempted by descriptions of bunch grass as high as a man’s stirrups, many of these homesteaders went to the wheat lands surrounding the Mansfield area. The railroad companies also offered bargain prices on one-way tickets going west. It is likely that some were disappointed upon reaching the land and finding it covered in sage brush and rocks. It would not be long, however, before difficult efforts to seed the land would be rewarded.
Origin of the Name
The name “Mansfield” was coined in 1905 by R. E. Darling, who wished to honor his Ohio hometown of the same name. The Ohio town was named after Colonel Jared Mansfield, once surveyor-general of the United States.
Beginning in 1907, talk became so frequent of a railroad going up the Moses Coulee to Mansfield that the Wenatchee World newspaper began writing articles suggesting that the work had already begun. It was another year before this became reality. The tracks that came from Rock Island stopped just 1 ½ miles short of the town’s current site. Mansfield, which had already moved once in its history due to fire, was quick to move building-by-building to the townsite Great Northern Railway had platted by the new tracks.
The introduction of rail lines to this area had a major impact upon local trade routes and economies. This shift was disastrous for the communities of Delrio, Leahy, Nelson, Saint Germain and Success.
Mansfield boomed and in 1909 had two banks, a blacksmith, a lodging house, two general stores, a harness shop, a post office, two real estate offices, and a newspaper, the “Mansfield News.” In the following year, J. W. Wright, president of the Wright Lumber Company and first mayor of Mansfield, finished construction of an $8,500 school building. The colossal school was needed to accommodate the influx of families to the area. Three stories tall, the building offered classes for grades 1 through 10. Grades 11 and 12 were added later.
(Source: Town of Mansfield)
1911 Wenatchee World article praising Mansfield’s founders
“No idle men, no loafers… Twenty months ago there was not a woman in Mansfield. There were but two or three houses. The carpenters were just commencing the erection of the depot…”
With the entire town clamoring for incorporation, it was only a matter of time. In February of 1911, with a population of roughly 250 residents, Mansfield officially became a town. Mansfield held its first 4th of July celebration that year, and a parade marched to the “Buckingham Band.” These early years were a time of hard work but also many rewards. The thriving community held many social get-togethers and actively supported its school and sports teams.
(Source: Town of Mansfield)
Around 1913, at the peak of the farm town’s glory days, nearly 1,000 people called Mansfield home. A series of misfortunes, however, befell Mansfield in that decade. The fire of 1914, which began in the C. H. Knox store, leveled the town’s business district. The two-story buildings burned to the ground as shop owners attempted to retrieve their money and goods. The volunteer fire crew was able to save the railroad depot, the post office, and the hotel. Because of record high wheat prices during World War I, the town was able to rebuild most of what had been lost. The prosperous rebirth was short-lived, though, as in 1917 the market price for wheat plummeted. Then the end of the war in 1918 flooded the market with European wheat. By 1920, Mansfield had fewer than 500 residents.
Mansfield News in 1922
“Theodore and the Misses Helena, Ida, and Annabelle Scmidt attended a party at Cavadini’s last Friday evening. They say they learned to fox-trot.”
“The rabbit drive held last Saturday was not as great a success in the number of rabbits killed as some former ones. The rabbits seem to have deserted Foster Creek coulee for which everyone is thankful.”
Drought, poor crops, and bank failures continued to plague Mansfield, leaving it in the 1930s much the size it is today. Mansfield has maintained a relatively steady population count that only fell below 300 in the 1970s. As in many small towns, the local school has served as the epicenter of the community hopes and sports entertainment. In the 1980s, realizing that the old Mansfield school building was in disrepair, the town spent nearly $2.5 million on the school complex that offers K though 12 classes in the town today. Shortly after that, Great Northern Railway pulled out of Mansfield. It seemed as if the town’s lifeline had been cut, but the town lives on.
(Source: Mansfield School District)
The town’s largest employer is its own school district, which offers classes K through 12 in the same school building for roughly 85 kids per year. The next largest employers for Mansfield are the County Roads Department and the Western Farm Services, but while a booming business in the area could help the community grow, that is not something the residents of Mansfield want.
Mansfield has been and remains a community which takes pride in being a community. Though the numbers of residents and businesses wax and wane, the spirit of the past remains. The newly remodeled museum in town is a testament to that fact. Inside, the floor beneath your feet is from the old school’s gym and the ceiling above your head is a replica of the original tin roof. Mansfield citizens also take an active part in local emergency services. The town has at its disposal roughly 60 firefighters and 16 EMTs, who operate an ambulance the town bought with the assistance of Douglas County PUD’s Rural Economic Development Fund.
Famous “split rock,” East of Mansfield
Incorporation has played a vital role in Mansfield’s continued vitality. It also allows the town to plan some pretty neat events. June is the big month for celebration in Mansfield and kicks-off with the Motorcycle Rally “Poker Run.” Motorcyclists from Chelan come through Mansfield collecting cards for their poker hand. But nothing compares to Mansfield’s Play Days on the second weekend in June. This is when Mansfield really comes alive. The town celebrates with barbeques, a parade down main street, and a theater production performed by anyone in town with enough nerve. Memorial Day also brings to town the Pacific Aerospace Rocketeers, who swarm into the small town to shoot off over 16,000 rockets (amazingly, only one has ever gone missing).
Scene from the 2010 Play Day Parade
(Source: IRIS, Gathering Our Voice. Image by Nancy Warner)
Highway 172 turns into Main Street and split’s the town down the center. Yet this highway doesn’t keep anyone from yelling across the street to see how someone’s day is going. Community interests are supported by its many organizations, including the Lion’s Club, which is actively involved with scholarship programs. Not much changes in Mansfield today. With so much to be proud of, this community likes that just fine.